Arkansas Access to Justice is Moving

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation are relocating to a new office effective February 21, 2017.

The addition of two new Commission staff positions–a Program Coordinator and an AmeriCorps volunteer–have doubled the organizations’ capacity and needs for space, said Executive Director Amy Johnson.

The new mailing address will be 1111 West 6th Street, Suite D, Little Rock, AR 72201. All other contact information will remain the same.

Commission Launches Pro Bono Survey

The Access to Justice Commission is partnering with the American Bar Association’s Center for Pro Bono to survey Arkansas attorneys about your views on pro bono service. Whether you currently do pro bono or not, we want to hear from you! The results of this survey will be used to help us better understand how we can provide meaningful pro bono opportunities to attorneys across the state. The survey takes about thirty minutes to complete.

Your time is valuable. If you complete the survey and provide your name and contact information (which will not be linked to your answers), you will get one free registration pass for a lunchtime April webinar on the state of access to justice in Arkansas and related ethical rules (1 hour of ethics CLE credit pending). You will have two dates to pick from, and we will contact you to provide registration information in March.

If you have any questions, please contact our Program Coordinator, Jordan Rogers or call 501.492.7174. Please share this survey with other attorneys!

CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY

Please complete survey by Feb. 28th.

Suit Filed Over Computer Program Making Medicaid Cuts

LITTLE ROCK, Ark., January 27, 2017– Seven Arkansans represented by Legal Aid of Arkansas filed suit today in Pulaski County Circuit Court to stop the Department of Human Services from using a secret computer algorithm to cut Medicaid in-home services for people with disabilities such as cerebral palsy and quadriplegia. The suit alleges that DHS hid the algorithm from public input and oversight in an act of bureaucratic lawmaking that violates the Administrative Procedures Act.

The services at issue are provided through the Medicaid ARChoices program. The program exists so that low-income individuals with disabilities can receive care in their communities instead of in a nursing home that would cost the state up to six times more. Serving around 8,000 people, the program provides an in-home caregiver to help with tasks of daily living that individuals with disabilities may not be able to do independently, such as using the toilet, bathing, eating, getting dressed, preparing food, keeping the house clean, and laundry. The number of caregiving hours a recipient gets is supposed to depend on the severity of their condition. The seven plaintiffs received between 40 and 56 hours per week, the maximum.

However, once DHS replaced the discretion of a trained nurse who visited the individuals in their homes with a computer algorithm known as RUGs, clients whose medical conditions had not improved started facing big cuts. The seven plaintiffs lost an average of 43% of their services, a drop of up to 4 care hours per day. With such large cuts, the plaintiffs have had to sit in their own waste, go without meals, risk falls, and stay shut in. If the cuts are upheld, nursing homes will be in their futures.

Despite losing a federal court case for failing to give ARChoices clients proper notice about cuts, DHS continues to defend the secret RUGs system. Legal Aid of Arkansas attorneys offered three times in writing to meet with DHS officials before filing this lawsuit, but their requests were refused.

“The RUGs computer algorithm was decided on in secret by unelected DHS leaders who don’t understand the system well enough to explain how it works. It’s not responsible to trust a computer you don’t understand when someone’s life is at stake, and it’s against the law to do it without going through the right public process,” says Kevin De Liban, lead attorney on the lawsuit for Legal Aid of Arkansas.

If the suit is successful, the RUGs system will be invalid, and DHS will have to submit it for public vetting and possible rejection. As plaintiff Louella Jones says, “I did not know DHS was ever considering a new method for determining the number of hours I would get. Now that the computer algorithm has been used to reduce my hours, I want the chance to explain what the impact of the algorithm has been on me.”

All media inquiries should be directed to Kevin De Liban at (901) 834-0436.

The Power of “Mmm” by Rachel E. Pisors

We recently read a brief, but powerful piece of writing by Rachel Pisors (pictured right), an attorney at Legal Aid of Arkansas. It’s worth reading, whether you work in legal aid or not.

The Power of ‘Mmm’

Rachel Pisors
Legal Aid of Arkansas Attorney

It doesn’t get you into trouble.
You’re not giving legal advice.
It won’t make the other person stop talking.

But what it will do is tell the person on the other end of the line that you care.
That you’re human—and not a machine.
That someone is listening to them, and that it’s safe for them to keep talking.

But first, let’s just try something.

I’m gonna run through a few basics to get to know where you’re at.
Just shout out the answer; won’t take but a minute.

How much money is in your bank account?
Do you have a car?
Do you go to Commodities to get free peanut butter?

And about that abuse…were you sexually assaulted?
Did this happen to you more than once?

And you said your name is “______,” right?
And you stay at the “________” shelter?

Thanks!

I now know exactly how bad-off you are financially, and I know what happened in your bedroom last night.

Me? Well, you don’t have to know me.

I just ask the questions, and you answer them.
Tough luck; that’s how this system works.

Enter “Mmm.”

What if we gifted our callers with pauses?
What if we gifted them a brief “Mmm,” after they’ve provided us with an answer that must have been particularly difficult to tell us—a stranger.

What if—just sometimes—we combined the “Mmm” with the pause, and after he says, “Well, I’m on SNAP, and I really don’t have any assets,” we say, “Mmm,” pause a second, and then gently pose our next question.

How about after she says, “Yes…he tore my panties off and held me down; it really hurt,” we say, “Mmm,” pause a second, and then gently pose our next question.

This isn’t an expensive gift.
It doesn’t commit us in any way or require you voice an opinion.
Just empathy—that’s all.
No sympathy—just a brief second of empathy.

Would you consider giving this gift to your HelpLine callers this New Year?
I know if I had been a HelpLine caller when I needed my divorce, I sure would’ve been grateful to you for this.

Yoga Class Relaxes Mind, Raises Funds for Legal Aid


Pictured here, Amy Johnson, Executive Director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission, accepts a donation from Bill Rahn and Caren Thompson. The donation of over $500 comes from the proceeds of a yoga class taught by Thompson at Rahn’s SNAP Fitness Club, located in downtown Little Rock. “I love to teach yoga. I knew from the first time I approached Bill about doing a yoga class at SNAP that I wanted to donate the proceeds. Because Bill had worked for legal services for years and I currently work at legal services, it seemed the perfect fit.” Thompson said.

The Access to Justice Commission thanks Ms. Thompson and Mr. Rahn for their generous support. 100% of their gift will be used to support legal aid in Arkansas. Each year legal aid assists thousands of low-income Arkansans facing a legal crisis, such as eviction, domestic abuse, or discrimination.

Commission to Participate in Helena and Eudora “Super Saturday” Events


The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission will be joining with businesses and non-profits for two “Super Saturday” events, one in Helena and one in Eudora. Partner organizations include Sourthern Bancorp, Friday, Eldredge, and Clark, Legal Aid of Arkansas, and the Center for Arkansas Legal Services. These events will provide free tax and will preparation services to low-income residents of Helena and Eudora.

Event details are as follows:

Helena
February 11th, 10am-2pm
Southern Bancorp, 502 Cherry Street

Eudora
February 25th, 10am-2pm
J Austin White Community Center, 160 South Main Street

Tax payers interested in learning more or who need to locate another “Super Saturday” event in their area can visit banksouthern.com/vita to find more information. Attorneys or law students interested in volunteering to prepare estate planning documents at these events should contact the Commission’s Program Coordinator, Jordan Rogers.

Katelyn Busby Honored for Pro Bono Service

Katelyn Busby, a Monticello attorney practicing at the Hashem Law Firm, was recently honored by the Center for Arkansas Legal Services as their Attorney of the Year for the 10th Judicial District. Each year, the Center selects an attorney practicing in the 10th Judicial District to receive this award. To receive the award, an attorney must participate in VOCALS, a program run by the Center which matches volunteer attorneys in private practice with low-income clients in need of legal assistance. Mrs. Busby was selected for the award based on her dedication to serving those in need and her active participation as a volunteer with the VOCALS program.

The Arkanas Access to Justice Commission joins the Center for Arkanas Legal Services in thanking Mrs. Busby for living up to the professional obligation all attorneys have to serve the impoverished, the defenseless, and the oppressed.

Jimmy Dill Named Jefferson County Volunteer Attorney of the Year

Jimmy Dill, of Pine Bluff Title Company, was recently named the 2016 Volunteer Attorney of the Year for Jefferson County. The award was presented by the Center for Arkansas Legal Services at the Jefferson County Bar Association’s December meeting. The Center is a non-profit law firm which represents low income individuals with legal problems. To be eligible for the Volunteer Attorney of the Year Award, an attorney must participate in the VOCALS program. This program allows the Center to serve more clients by matching attorneys in private practice willing to donate some of their time with indigent clients. Mr. Dill was selected for his dedication to service and willingness to assist clients through the VOCALS program.

The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission congratulates Mr. Dill on receiving this award and encourages all attorneys to show the same committment to giving back to their communties.

Arkansas Supreme Court Declares Pro Bono Week

For the first time, the Arkansas Supreme Court has officially declared a celebration of Pro Bono Week in Arkansas. The Court has designated October 23rd through the 29th as a time “to recognize the valuable contributions made by pro bono attorneys throughout the year and to encourage pro bono participation . . . .”  The per curiam also praised the legal community’s commitment to public service as “one of the noblest attributes of the legal profession.” The full opinion can be found here

Pro Bono Week began in 2009 as an event organized by the American Bar Association to honor the work of pro bono attorneys and to encourage pro bono service by more lawyers. The event has since grown into a nationwide observance with thousands participating in clinics, workshops, open houses and other events. The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission has helped to organize Pro Bono Week activities in Arkansas since 2011 and is excited to have the Arkansas Supreme Court join in the effort. In addition to the Supreme Court, Governor Asa Hutchinson has issued a proclamation recognizing Pro Bono Week and both houses of the Arkansas General Assembly have issued citations to recognize the week.

Celebrate Pro Bono October 23-29, 2016

During National Pro Bono Week 2016, there will be several opportunities for attorneys to give back to their communities, including statewide and local events. For more information on how to get involved, check out the list of events below.

Our House Expungement Clinic

What: Our House, the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, and the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission are partnering to host a clinic which will assist Our House clients in applying to have their criminal records sealed. Volunteer attorneys are still needed to assist in the clinic. No prior experience is necessary, as a free CLE will be provided before the clinic begins.

Where: Our House, 302 East Roosevelt Road Little Rock, AR.

When: October 28th, 2016. The CLE will begin at noon, with the clinic following at 1pm.

How to help: If you are interested in assisting with this clinic, contact Rachel Freeman, Pro Bono Coordinator for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, at  501.376.3423.

AR Free Legal Answers

What: The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission will be launching a new website called AR Free Legal Answers. This website, which is part of a program supported by the American Bar Association, will allow persons eligible for free legal aid to post their legal questions. Volunteer attorneys will have the opportunity to select questions to answer at their convenience. Attorneys remain anonymous, with the client seeing only that the question was answered by an Arkansas licensed attorney. No specific time commitment is required of attorneys and malpractice insurance will provided.

Where: This website will launch statewide.

When:  Monday, October 24th.

How to help: Attorneys can sign up to volunteer here. Questions can be directed to Jordan Rogers, Program Coordinator for the Access to Justice Commission, at 501.492.7174.

Just Jeans

What: Law firms, corporate legal departments, community organizations, government legal offices, judicial offices, and law schools can all help make a difference in the lives of Arkansans in need. Participating employees and students will make a minimum contribution of $5 to observe a Casual Friday. Contributions collected will support legal help for domestic violence victims, veterans struggling to readjust to civilian life, and children in need of stable homes or special education.

Where: Statewide.

When: Friday, October 28.

How to help: Offices, schools, nonprofits, and individuals can sign up to participate here. For more information, contact Erin Jacobson at 501.492.7176.